Enlightenment and Romantic Passions: Theories of Feeling 1700-1830

Dr Jane Slinn

This course explores how poets, novelists and philosophers in the long eighteenth century – one of Britain’s most fertile periods of creative and intellectual life – thought about, argued over and imagined the nature of the passions, and their role in human flourishing.

Our focus will be on the expression and communication of feeling in literary and literary critical texts of the period, and on an issue which continues to divide literary critical opinion: whether literary writing expresses and evokes a particular set of feelings which may be distinguished from our everyday emotions. In other words, do specifically aesthetic feelings really exist?

 We will also consider the place of feeling in genres of eighteenth-century writing with which works of literature frequently engaged: ethics, economics and politics. Further, we will explore Enlightenment and Romantic texts in parallel with subsequent writings by some of the most well-known thinkers of the twentieth century, such as Sigmund Freud and Roland Barthes. Finally, we will examine the legacy of Enlightenment and Romantic theories of feeling in some recent attempts to describe the affective experiences we have when we encounter works of art.

 This course is aimed at: The course is open to students majoring in any discipline, although it may appeal particularly to those studying English, History or Philosophy.  Some background in a humanities discipline would be helpful, but is not essential.

Pre-requisite knowledge required: None.

Transferable Knowledge and Skills: Students will acquire the following: a broad knowledge of the vital debates concerning the emotions in the long-eighteenth century and today; skills in close reading and careful attention to literary language; the ability to analyse and enjoy complex philosophical arguments; and knowledge of and practice in how to develop and present persuasive and well-substantiated arguments orally and in writing concerning literary, historical and philosophical material.

Required Pre-Arrival Reading

  • Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (Penguin Classics edn, 2003)
  • Henry MacKenzie, The Man of Feeling (Oxford World’s Classics edn, 2009)
  • David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Sections II, V-IX & Appendices ‘Concerning Moral Sentiment’ and ‘Of Self-love’, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. N. Nidditch (Oxford, 1997)


 1 Final Exam: 45%

1 Final Essay: 45%

Participation, progress and attendance: 10%

Lecture hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)

Seminar hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)